Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Politics and the Myth of Clean Coal

One of the reasons renewable energy solutions are so important is that they replace energy sources that are harmful to people and the environment. Coal, for example, is particularly harmful.

The burning of coal for the production of electricity is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, contributing in a major way to global warming. But the problems with coal are not limited to the effects of burning it. Mountaintop Removal Mining is destroying mountains in Appalachia at an alarming rate, and is harmful to the residents of the area in many ways. Unfortunately, practitioners of mountaintop removal mining, such as Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co., seem to care little about the mountains of Appalachia or the people who live there.

Coal is big-business in this country, and with that comes political pressure that too often results in actions that are in the interest of the coal industry rather than the interest of people and the environment. Blankenship has been known to contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns, including a massive campaign to unseat a Supreme Court judge. As Beth White, a coordinator with West Virginia Consumers for Justice, put it; “It proves that West Virginia Supreme Court seats (are) for sale.”

At the federal level, the three billion dollar Clean Coal Technology Program is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. Toxic elements are removed from the coal, but they are not eliminated, they just end up somewhere other than the smokestack. Clean Coal Technology does not address the toxic slurry lagoons that result from the washing of coal. These are often placed in locations where they present a danger to those downstream, and they sometimes contaminate drinking water. One such impoundment failed in 1972, sweeping 125 people to their death and left 4000 others homeless.

The Clean Coal Technology Program is part of the Bush Administration’s Advanced Energy Initiative. It’s the bad part. The money spent on the Clean Coal Technology Program could be better used to fund solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects. As a result, the world would move closer to eliminating the need to produce electricity from coal, and the environment would be better off. Our air would be cleaner, and streams would be free of pollutants. There is no dirtier fuel than coal, and it needs to be phased out as soon as possible. Trying to clean it is the wrong approach.

Sadly, instead of being a good steward of the land, President Bush has placed lobbyists and lawyers from the very industries that they are supposed to regulate into important environmental positions. It is unlikely that any meaningful progress will occur until these positions are filled with people who care more about people and the environment, than they do about big corporate profits.

For more information, visit the websites listed below:

I’ve sent a copy of this paper to my representatives. I hope you will do the same.

Solar John

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